Feature, Symbolbild, der Spielball auf dem Sockel mit Bundesliga Logo. Deutschland, Stuttgart, 05.03.2022, Fussball, Bundesliga: VfB Stuttgart vs Borussia Moenchengladbach, Saison 2021/2022, 25. Spieltag, Mercedes-Benz Arena Foto: A2 Bildagentur/Peter Hartenfelser DFL/DFB REGULATIONS PROHIBIT ANY USE OF PHOTOGRAPHS AS IMAGE SEQUENCES AND/OR QUASI-VIDEO. *** Feature, symbol image, the match ball on the base with Bundesliga logo Germany, Stuttgart, 05 03 2022, football, Bundesliga VfB Stuttgart vs Borussia Moenchengladbach, season 2021 2022, 25 match day, Mercedes Benz Arena Foto A2 Bildagentur Peter Hartenfelser DFL DFB REGULATIONS PROHIBIT ANY USE OF PHOTOGRAPHS AS IMAGE SEQUENCES AND OR QUASI VIDEO

Strikerless Woes Continue

Another match, another clear indication that the Dortmund attack without a true central striker is a rudderless ship. Paco Alcacer was unable to return to the starting XI after his knock last week and Marius Wolf was selected by Lucien Favre to lead the line on Saturday with the trio of Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa and Christian Pulisic in support.

Dortmund once again found themselves struggling to create quality chances, failing to register a shot on goal in the first half and only improving marginally after the break. All 4 players have the ability to score and create goals for the side, but none of them are truly comfortable leading the line. Too often, an inordinate amount of pressure is placed on Reus to create chances out of nothing, with predictably inconsistent results. If Alcacer fails to make his mark at centre-forward upon his return to action, perhaps it will be time to call into question the seemingly scattergun nature of the club’s summer transfer business.

Possession Without Progression 

If keeping the ball was the surest measure of success, Dortmund would have won easily on Saturday after keeping possession for 60% of the match. However, after an energetic start that suggested die Schwarzgelben would find their attacking rhythm, their initiative appeared to grind to a halt. Hoffenheim manager Julian Nagelsmann’s organised 3-5-2 frustrated Favre’s men, allowing them all the time they liked in their own half but rarely into dangerous areas. The midfield was excellent in closing off preferred passing angles, forcing the Dortmund attack to try for the long way round. 

Exacerbating the problem further was Hoffenheim’s own incisive play when they were able to wrestle control of the ball away from the visitors. The hosts outshot Dortmund 17-8, and it was they who looked most likely to run away with the victory, especially after Joelinton managed to break the deadlock shortly before the halftime whistle with a low effort that beat Roman Burki inside the post. There was some small improvement in the second half, but Hoffenheim continued to find dangerous areas, including just before the final whistle when an airmailed shot from point-blank range nearly sent Dortmund home without the point.

A Red Card Wakeup Call

Down 1-0 and with time ticking away in the second half, Dortmund looked almost certain to end up on the losing end until, ironically, a questionable sending off galvanised a 10 men Dortmund in the 75th minute. Chasing down a bouncing ball at the back, Abdou Diallo tangled with Andrej Kramaric, who tumbled to the turf after Diallo had swept the ball up, catching him under the face with a stray arm in the process. The referee wasted little time in going to the pocket to produce a straight red card, to the furious protestations of Burki and captain Marco Reus.

Far from the catastrophe it could have precipitated, Diallo’s departure snapped his teammates out of their reverie and began to attack with urgency. Though they would concede another heart-stopping chance before time expired, Dortmund’s reaction to the perceived injustice lead indirectly to the all-important equaliser. 

American Intervention

For the second time in as many matches, Christian Pulisic was once again the man to come to the rescue. The just-turned 20-year old knotted the score in the 84th minute after a slick combination down the left sprung Reus into space to the left of the penalty area, where he wasted little time in beating his marker to his spot, firing a low cross over to the rapidly oncoming Pulisic. The American poked the ball home, salvaging the point for his team and validating Favre’s decision to start him all in one go. 

Nurnberg To Cap a Busy 7 Days 

While Saturday’s draw was disappointing for Dortmund, who have dropped a further 2 points behind Bayern Munich and their perfect start to the season, they will not have to wait long to right the ship against Nurnberg on Wednesday. Europe’s top leagues are getting into the meat of the schedule now, with European and domestic cup competitions compressing the league schedule and triggering a busy run of fixtures for Dortmund. The match on Wednesday will be their third in 7 days, a potential problem for Lucien Favre and his thin squad. 

Maintaining the health of his most important players will be high on Favre’s list of priorities this autumn, as the squad he inherited is nowhere near as deep as past seasons. As hard as it has been for Favre to assemble a cohesive XI that can attack with enough consistency to bolster a much-improved defence, the job would get that much more difficult if players start to drop out of the lineup with injuries.